Sunday, April 22, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - The Banquet

Set in China, The Banquet of course presents the play-within-a-play as Chinese opera. The full court is in attendance, but the Royals are quite far from the stage. It's all dumb show, with masked acrobats, but interestingly, the Hamlet character is sitting on the stage, masked, facing his parents and keeping the beat on a drum. A ghost clad in white (the color of death) comes to kill a ref-faced king and already, even before a puff of scorpion venom is blown into the figure's ear, the King recognizes something. As the opera makes its points, close-ups of the King and Queen reveal unease, while those of Hamlet rather show a cold fury, thought it's difficult to divine the expression behind the mask. These are intercut with close-ups of the previous King's armor, shedding tears of blood. In this way, this version of the play includes the Ghost.
In fact, the Ghost is quite prominent, not only in the cuts to the armor that has come to represent it, but in the garb of the people on stage. There are two white figures, including Hamlet whose facelessness turns him into a ghost himself. This osmosis presents characters doing the Ghost's bidding, as if he were the one putting on the play and observing well the guilty party.

At the end of the dumb show, the murdered Player King keels over, a shot that is played over and over again, lending it psychological weight. The Royals gets up from their thrones and walk over to the stage where the King examines the dead body. Cool and collected, smiling even, he starts a slow clap filled with sarcasm, though the court doesn't take any chances and starts to applaud as well. In this mockery, he hides his own guilt. He then turns to confront the Prince in what seems a mirror of the Prince's first scene of the play. "Hamlet" is asked to remove his mask (i.e put an end to his mourning) and in seeming madness, doesn't want to be touched by the King lest the black scorpion venom get on him. In response, the King sends him on a mission to the North because it is time he resume his service to the country. This combines the ideas of Hamlet's first scene and the exile forced on him after he has killed Polonius, making the Mouse-Trap reason enough for the Prince's exile, one during which he will suffer an assassination attempt.

This being a Chinese martial arts epic, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern will however be replaced by snow-tunneling ninjas...

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